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See Cassini spacecraft's first images from its new Saturn orbit

Saturn shows off its geometric cloudy north pole as Cassini snuggles in close to the planet's main rings.

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Cassini took this two days before its first close pass of the main rings.
NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

NASA's Cassini spacecraft is taking its Saturn studies to a close-shave level with a new orbit that has it skimming the edges of the planet's rings. The probe's cameras snapped some fresh views in early December, including a good look at the hexagonal cloud pattern on Saturn's north pole.

The images hint at what's to come as Cassini continues what NASA calls its "Ring-Grazing Orbits." The space agency has planned 20 week-long orbits until April 2017, when Cassini will be redirected to a close flyby of the moon Titan.

The pictures are a reminder of next year's impending finale of the Cassini mission, which involves the spacecraft diving into Saturn's atmosphere until it's heard from no more. It's been quite a ride for Cassini, which first launched in 1997 and has spent over a decade studying Saturn and its satellites.

"This is it, the beginning of the end of our historic exploration of Saturn," said Cassini imaging team lead Carolyn Porco. "Let these images -- and those to come -- remind you that we've lived a bold and daring adventure around the solar system's most magnificent planet."

Saturn's hexagonal cloud pattern on display for Cassini.

NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute